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Working with an Architect

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Design Project Stages

Working an RIAI Registered Architect will take you competently through your project. Architects are not only trained to design buildings but also to assist their clients on all matters relating to the building project and administer the building contractor between the employer (client) and the contractor.

  1. Developing Your Brief (From Statement of Need to Design Brief)
  2. Designing Your Project (From Initial to Detailed Design)
  3. Administer the Construction Process

The architect’s fee is usually broken down into stage payments to coincide with critical stages in the project development.


1. Developing Your Brief

At the start of your project you and your architect will meet to discuss in detail your requirements and aspirations. It is important that you advise your architect of your budget, time frame and any other parameters, as these will impact on the design.  Issues your architect will discuss with you include:

  • Establish your requirements
  • Consider the different options available
  • Select a preferred option

Alzheimer's Society of Ireland HQ

Alzheimer’s Respite Centre: Best Health Building – 2010 Irish Architecture Awards, Niall McLaughlin Architects

"We set our architects a challenging brief, namely to create a day-care and respite centre for people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, and to build a new national office for the Alzheimer Society Ireland. (…) They embraced the ethos of the Society and placed the needs of our clients at the centre of their work, resulting in an imaginative, engaging, modern building which has proved flexible and adaptable in use. "
- (Client: The Alzheimer Society Ireland)

The information is collated into a formal document, which sets out your requirements and is called ‘The Brief’. 

Working with an Architect: An architect is essential in formulating a successful brief.  Time spent at this initial stage is invaluable as a design is only as good as the brief.  A good brief, in turn, has a major influence on the quality of the finished building.

The Brief is developed through a number of stages – from an initial Statement of Need and Preliminary Brief to the Strategic Brief and the Design Brief:

  • Statement of Need: the basic document, which defines the client’s objectives.
  • Preliminary Brief: gives consideration to financial resources, accommodation requirements, site availability, timescale and other factors likely to affect the project.
  • Strategic Brief:  brings together the Statement of Need and the Preliminary Brief. It sets out the broad scope and purpose of the project and the key parameters of the preferred options including budget and programme.
  • Design Brief: the full statement of the client’s functional and operational requirements for the project. Following initial design work, the Strategic Brief is translated into the Design Brief.

Further Reading: A Client’s Guide to Briefing and the Building Process, Published by the Forum for the Construction Industry (FCI).

There are many possible design solutions for each project and a detailed brief will enable your architect to identify and develop the most appropriate solution for your needs:

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2. Designing Your Project

Your RIAI Registered Practice will have the relevant education and expertise to guide you expertly through all stages of the design and construction process.

2.1  Initial Design / Feasbility
The architect will analyse your brief requirements and present initial design proposals. The design may still change at this stage or your architect may provide you with a number of alternative proposals in form of drawings, sketch designs and schematics for example of space allocation.

You and your architect are likely to have several discussions about these proposals.
Drawings can be sometimes difficult to understand but this is an important stage in the design. It is a two-way process into which you must feed your concerns and requirements.

Civic Precinct

Civic Precinct – Courthouse, Local Area Office and Library, Kilmallock, Limerick; Best Public Building – 2010 Irish Architecture Awards, ABK Architects

“The project has brought together 19th and 21st centuries to form a seamless extension with the town (...); the new amenity is tremendous success. The management and staff of Limerick County Council and, most importantly, the public of Limerick are unanimous in their praise of a project, of which the design team should be justifiably proud.”
(Client: Limerick County Council and the Courts Service)


2.2  Developed Design
Having translated your brief into a design, your architect will develop the initial proposal into a more developed design. At the developed design stage, your architect will need to finalise the layout of spaces, the materials for construction and incorporate the work of any specialist consultants, such as a structural engineer who will advise on the structure. You will also need to decide on the renewable energy sources (i.e. solar panels) you wish to use, as they impact on the design. Your architect will present the developed design to you and discuss its implications, for example on timescale and project cost.

Documents presented at this stage will include: Site Plan, Floor Plans, Key Elevations and Sections, Renderings or Model.

Your architect will deal with the complex legal framework of Building Regulations, health andsafety regulations, disability, accessibility and planning laws.

Planning Permission: Your architect will prepare the drawing package and make the application on your behalf.


2.3  Detailed Design
Following agreement on the developed design, your architect will produce full construction drawings, including site works and specification finishes. A technical and quality specification also forms part of the detailed design stage to ensure that the project requirements are clearly formulated for the contractor. The detailed design will have to incorporate any changes as required under a Grant of Planning Permission.  Your architect will also liaise closely with specialist consultants, such as the structural engineer, to incorporate their designs contributions.


2.4  Tendering for a Contractor
The architect will prepare Forms of Tender for main and specialist contractors. It is advisable to have at least three contractors submit costings (tenders) for a project.  As each contractor will base their costing on the same information, tenders can be compared and analysed and the best price found. You and your architect should be satisfied, however, that each of the contractors is competent to carry out the work. For example, you should ask a contractor to see samples of previous work and speak to previous clients. The successful tender may not necessarily be the lowest one. If a tender is very low, the contractor may have missed something. In some cases, an architect and client may agree to negotiate a tender price with just one contractor.

Your architect and QS (if involved) will evaluate the tenders received. Your architect will also advise on the most appropriate RIAI Form of Building Contract for your project as well as on insurance during construction.

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3.  Administering the Construction Process

From conception to occupation the architect will protect your interests and help to ensure that the design and construction process goes as smoothly as possible.

During Construction your architect will act on the client’s behalf as an independent advisor, inspecting the building work at intervals to ensure that it is being carried out generally in accordance with the contract documentation.

Your architect will administer the contract and advise you on stage payments during the projects. They will not certify payment unless work complies with the specifications and drawings. 

The architect administers the building contract as the client’s agent and is legally required to act fairly between the client and the contractor.

Project Supervisor Design Stage (PSDP) and Construction Stage (PSCS)
In compliance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Regulations, the client must appoint a competent person to act as a PSDP and PSCS. 

The PSDP must coordinate safety and health issues in the design of a building and its subsequent maintenance.  The PSDP must prepare a preliminary safety plan which must include the base in which time the project was established, risk assessments by other designers, location of electricity, water and sewage connections, where appropriate for adequate welfare facilities. The RIAI provides an accreditation process and a listing of those accredited is available on the RIAI website.

The PSCS must coordinate the safety and health aspects of the construction stage and prior to construction must prepare the Safety and Health plan.


After Construction
The architect’s work continues until after the building work. Part of the payment due to the builder – the retention – is held back for up to twelve months and is only paid out on the architect’s instruction, after any defects have been rectified by the contractor. Remember that the architect’s Opinion on Compliance with Planning and Building Regulations is subject to work not being changed during construction.

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